Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Queen of the Night: Rest in Peace, Whitney

“Don’t make no difference if I’m wrong or I’m right,” Whitney Houston announced in “Queen of the Night,” and in a way, that’s how I feel mourning the loss of her, a woman who, of course, I did not actually know. Yes, it may seem a bit ridiculous to behave as if her death affects me personally—sort of like how when Heath Ledger died, I whined to my brother about how upset I was, and he retorted, “You realized you didn’t actually know him, right?”—but with his death, the more recent death of Amy Winehouse, and now, Whitney, I still think, stubborn and ridiculous as it may be, Didn’t I?

Although my first full-blown celebrity crush started at a wildly inappropriate age, when I was about five and falling madly in love with Orry Maine, aka Patrick Swayze, Heath Ledger’s face covered my bedroom walls as a teenager. I used to stare at that man’s face on a daily basis. I watched “A Knight’s Tale” an embarrassing amount of times, not because it was good, but because of Heath. I remember scoffing when I first heard he was dating Michelle Williams, because I thought, “What’s my boyfriend doing with Jen from Dawson’s Creek?” Yes, it’s ridiculous. But still, I felt something when he died. It’s a little embarrassing, but whatever. When Patrick Swayze died, I cried. A lot. I tried watching "Dirty Dancing" and couldn’t even get through it, for chrissakes. So maybe that’s even more embarrassing, but again, whatever. I feel a lot of feelings. We all know this already.

But: Whitney!

If you look through the record collection at my father’s house, it’s easily apparent when you’ve arrived at the milk crate that contains my mother’s old records, because it’s an obvious shift from all the rock ‘n’ roll records to R&B. In that milk crate, the record I always pull out, if only to stare at it, is a Whitney Houston album. I remember as a kid, looking at it and thinking she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

I’m talking about this one:

She seemed so elegant, so sure of herself, so otherworldly, in a way. I loved the tilt of her head, and that look in her eyes, like she was challenging the looker. So beautiful! I wanted to be beautiful like that. I wanted that kind of aura.

And my God, her voice! I don’t have any specific memories of my mom playing this particular Whitney Houston album. But I can say, with total conviction, that her music was certainly included in the rotation during our Saturday afternoon house cleaning, just like I know we listened to a lot of Gloria Estefan, Fleetwood Mac, Sade, and Annie Lennox.

I remember watching “The Bodyguard” with my mom, and at the end, when she says goodbye to Kevin Costner by the plane, we were both teary eyed.

I looked over and said to Mom: “I just don’t get it! They’re in love; why can’t they be together?”

She looked at me and, without hesitation, replied, “They’re facing reality. They’re from two different worlds. It would never be able to work.”

I said, “But why? Cause he’s white?”

She looked at me like I had lost my mind. “No, Alison. Because he is a bodyguard and she is a superstar.”

I don't remember how old I was at that time, but I'll never forget that conversation.

My mom was also a big fan of Terry McMillan novels, so of course I also watched "Waiting to Exhale" with her—and she got uncharacteristically embarrassed by one of the sex scenes. Afterward, I basically stole the soundtrack from her, listening to it nonstop in my room.

"Everyone falls in love sometimes":

A few years ago, I was at my dad’s for the weekend and “The Bodyguard” was on TV. I was a little surprised when he sat down and actually watched the entire thing with me. When it was over, I felt overwhelmingly sad. I went to the bathroom and cried.

It wasn’t about the movie, of course. So right now, as I write this and listen to Whitney, the sadness I feel isn’t just about Whitney. It is and it isn’t, at all. I remembered that Whitney had a daughter—she is 18. I just read that she was rushed to the hospital and treated for anxiety today. Of course I have no idea what their relationship was, and I have no idea just how she feels today, even though I was also 18 when my mother died. It doesn’t stop my heart from hurting any less at the thought.

Mom, I hope you have a record player up in heaven. I want to listen to some Whitney with you right now.

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